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Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie

, Volume 44, Supplement 2, pp 157–178 | Cite as

Proving the world more imaginary?

Four approaches to imagining sustainability in sustainability research
  • Sacha KaganEmail author
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Abstract

Sustainability research has set itself the double-challenge of uncovering the complexity of a globally, locally and historically unsustainable development path, and of contributing to a search process for more sustainable development paths for humanity.

A small number of researchers involved in this area have suggested “that maybe the challenge of sustainability isn’t to prove the world more real […] but to prove the world more imaginary” (Robinson as quoted in Taylor 2012, n. p.). Taking up this invocation of the imaginary, the article investigates some imaginaries and imagination of sustainability at play in sustainability research. Four relatively distinct approaches to sustainability research are identified, characterized and differentiated: “triple bottom-line”, “sustainability transformation”, “holistic healing/biophilia”, and “culture of qualitative complexity”. They each develop a specific focus, are nourished by partly different imaginaries and develop their imaginations in distinct directions.

In this article, imagination is understood as an individual and social, perceptive and creative process by which we shape realities in our encounters with the world; whereas the imaginary is understood as a deep symbolic matrix that enables our access to the world. Imaginaries are not just made up and imposed on the world by the humans, but the result of an imaginative encounter with the human and other-than-human world.

Focused attention on imagination and imaginaries not only allows to observe the area of sustainability research through a differentiating perspective that helps understand certain contrasting and/or shared features across different approaches to sustainability research. This focused attention also bears a potentially instrumental value for inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability research itself, because it encourages sustainability researchers to further reflect on the importance, modalities and different framings of creative and reflective approaches to futures-oriented research agendas. The creative exercise of the imagination is not only at the core of “anticipatory competences” (Wiek et al. 2011, p. 7) for sustainability, but also at the core of percipience to nature-culture’s dynamic complexity. In this respect, sustainability research needs to develop its self-reflexivity beyond discourse-rational approaches to narratives, with a deeper understanding of both embodied cognition and of culture. Reflection on, and radically imaginative work with both dominant and alternative imaginaries that sustainability researchers operate from, such as the four imaginaries discussed in this article, are a precondition to any movement beyond institutional path-dependency to a globally unsustainable development.

Keywords

Imaginaries of sustainability Imagination Sustainability research Sustainability science 

Vom Versuch, die Welt als imaginärer zu beweisen

Vier Ansätze der Nachhaltigkeitsforschung, Nachhaltigkeit zu imaginieren

Zusammenfassung

Die Nachhaltigkeitsforschung hat sich der doppelten Herausforderung gestellt, zugleich die Komplexität eines globalen, lokalen und historisch nicht-nachhaltigen Entwicklungspfads aufzudecken und zu einem Suchprozess für nachhaltigere Entwicklungspfade für die Menschheit beizutragen.

Einige Forscher auf diesem Gebiet haben vorgeschlagen, „dass die Herausforderung der Nachhaltigkeit vielleicht nicht darin besteht, die Welt als realer zu beweisen […], sondern die Welt als imaginärer zu beweisen“ (Robinson, zitiert nach Taylor 2012; eigene Übersetzung). Der Artikel greift diesen Aufruf des Imaginären auf und untersucht einige imaginaries und Imaginationen von Nachhaltigkeit, welche in der Nachhaltigkeitsforschung von Bedeutung sind. Vier relativ unterschiedliche Nachhaltigkeitsforschungsansätze werden identifiziert, charakterisiert und differenziert: „Triple Bottom-Line“, „Nachhaltigkeitstransformation“, „ganzheitliche Heilung/Biophilie“ und „Kultur der qualitativen Komplexität“. Sie entwickeln jeweils einen spezifischen Fokus, werden von teilweise unterschiedlichen Imaginären genährt und entwickeln ihre Imaginationen in verschiedene Richtungen.

In diesem Artikel wird die Imagination als individueller und sozialer, perzeptiver und kreativer Prozess verstanden, durch den wir Realitäten in unseren Begegnungen mit der Welt formen; wohingegen das Imaginäre als eine tiefe symbolische Matrix verstanden wird, die unseren Zugang zur Welt ermöglicht. Das Imaginäre wird nicht nur von Menschen erfunden und der Welt aufgezwungen, sondern ist das Ergebnis einer imaginativen Begegnung mit der menschlichen und der nichtmenschlichen Welt.

Eine Fokussierung der Imagination und des Imaginären erlaubt nicht nur die Beobachtung des Gebiets der Nachhaltigkeitsforschung durch eine differenzierende Perspektive, die hilft, bestimmte gegensätzliche und/oder gemeinsame Merkmale verschiedener Nachhaltigkeitsforschungsansätze zu verstehen. Dieser Fokus hat auch einen potenziell instrumentellen Wert für die inter- und transdisziplinäre Nachhaltigkeitsforschung selbst, da sie Nachhaltigkeitsforscher dazu ermutigt, die Bedeutung, Modalitäten und unterschiedliche Ausrichtungen kreativer und reflektierender Ansätze für zukunftsorientierte Forschungsagenden weiter zu reflektieren. Die kreative Ausübung der Imagination steht nicht nur im Mittelpunkt von „anticipatory competences“ (Wiek et al. 2011, p. 7) für Nachhaltigkeit, sondern auch im Kern der Wahrnehmung der dynamischen Komplexität des Natur-Kultur-Nexus. In dieser Hinsicht muss die Nachhaltigkeitsforschung ihre Selbstreflexivität über diskursrationale Ansätze zu Narrativen hinaus entwickeln, und ein tieferes Verständnis sowohl der „Embodied Cognition“ als auch der Kultur gewinnen. Die Reflexion auf und die radikal imaginative Arbeit mit sowohl dominanten als auch alternativen imaginaries, von denen Nachhaltigkeitsforscher ausgehen, wie auch die vier in diesem Artikel diskutierten imaginaries, sind Voraussetzungen für jede Bewegung, welche über die institutionelle Pfadabhängigkeit von einer global nicht-nachhaltigen Entwicklung hinausgeht.

Schlüsselwörter

Imaginäre der Nachhaltigkeit Imagination Nachhaltigkeitsforschung Nachhaltigkeitswissenschaft 

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Copyright information

© Österreichische Gesellschaft für Soziologie 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LüneburgGermany

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